Category: African Music

Formed over six years ago, Antananarivo, Madagascar-based trio LohArano — Mahalia Ravoajanahary (vocals, guitar), Michael Raveloson (bass, vocals) and Natiana Randrianasoloson (drums, vocals) — have developed an incredibly unique, boundary pushing sound that meshes elements of popular and beloved Malagasy musical styles — in particular, Tsapiky  and Salegy — with metal. The Madagascan trio’s sound and approach represents a bold generation of young people that are inspired by music from West, yet honors and respects the traditions of their elders, all while roaring with the fierce urgency of our moment.

Earlier this year, LohArano released their self-titled EP, which featured “Tandrroka,” a mosh pit friendly ripper, featuring rumbling, down-tuned bass lines, thunderous drumming, scorching guitar riffs and Ravoajanahary’s Karen O-like vocals, which alternate between feral howls, screeching and shouting.

The band released their full-length debut LohAmboto this past Friday through Libertalia Music. The album’s first single, album title track “LohAmboto” continues an incredible run of expansive forward-thinking, post rock/metal inspired material centered around scorching riffs, heavy bass lines, thunderous Malagasy polyrhythms and Ravoajanahary’s howls and shouts. It’s a face melting ripper, reminiscent of System of a Down and others.

The band will be playing Europe for the first time on December 3, 2021 — with an appearance at Trans Musicales in Rennes, France. They’ll embark on their first European tour during the Summer of 2022.

New Video: JOVM Mainstays Ibeyi Release a Dreamy and Symbolic Visual for Swaggering “Made of Gold”

Deriving their name from the Yoruba word for twins ibeji, the acclaimed French-Cuban, London-based twin sibling duo Ibeyi (pronounced ee-bey-ee) — Lisa-Kainde Diaz and Naomi Diaz — can trace the origins of their music career to growing up in a deeply musical home: their father, Anga Diaz, was best known for his work as a member of the intentionally acclaimed Buena Vista Social Club and for collaborating with Ibrahim Ferrer, Ruben Gonzalez and Compay Segundo. Sadly, Anga died with the Diaz Sisters were 11.

Upon their father’s death, the Diaz Sisters began studying Yoruba folk songs and the cajon an Afro-Caribbean drum that their father played throughout most of his music career. Interestingly, although Yoruba is primarily spoken throughout Nigeria and Benin, the African language has been spoken in some fashion in the Diaz Sisters’ native Cuba since the 1700s, when the slave trade brought Africans to the Caribbean. When the sisters began studying their late father’s musical culture and heritage, they had a deeper understanding of their father as a person; but they also were in touch with their ancestral history.

The duo’s 2015 self-titled debut was released to widespread critical praise. Thematically, the album dealt with the past — the loss of their father, their relationship with each other, their father’s origins, their own origins and connecting with their roots. The album’s saw the duo quickly establishing a unique sound that meshes elements of electro pop, hip-hop, jazz, the blues and Yoruba folk music. The JOVM mainstays’ sophomore album, 2017’s Ash found the duo writing songs firmly rooted in Afro-Cuban culture and history while being among the most visceral, politically charged material of their catalog to date, with the album thematically touching upon race, gender and sexual identity.

Earlier this year, the twins headed back into the studio to begin work on their third, full-length album. Understandably, feeling a sense of chaos, informed by the chaotic state of our world, the acclaimed twins set out to invoke the age-old teachings of their ancestors to remobilize the power of their birth-given destiny as Ibeyi.

The duo are currently working on the album, which is slated for release next year. But in the meantime, “Made of Gold” is the first bit of new material from the London-based JOVM mainstays since the release of Ash. Centered around a lush and textured production featuring atmospheric synths, buzzing bass synths, skittering tweeter and woofer rattling beats that evokes unease and menace while meshing contemporary Afro pop/Afrobeats, electro pop and trap in an infectious fashion. While being one of the few songs of the sibling duo’s growing catalog with lyrics sung in English, the song features swaggering verses delivered by Gambian-British emcee Pa Salieu.

“The first song we produced in the studio was ‘Made of Gold.’ Whilst we were creating the layers of the backing vocals, we could feel that we were making contact with our ancestors; that what we were recording was calling on the brujas and our ancestors for their ancient knowledge,” says Lisa-Kaindé Diaz. “‘Made of Gold’ is about connecting to our ancestors’ knowledge, to the truths of the past and the power of the ancient. The line is not broken, nor is it lost. Protected by these spells, our third album will see us conveying our reconnection to that power and channeling that magic into our new music.”

Directed by Daniel Sannwald, the recently released video for “Made of Gold” is a highly symbolic, gorgeously shot visual conceptualized by Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi. The video is inspired by Frida Kahlo’s The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me and Señor Xolotl. The video features Naomi as the Queen of Thunder, a referrence to her Yoruba god, Shango — and Lisa-Kaindé as the Queen of Water, a reference to her Yoruba goddess, Yemaya, Emerging from the sky to join the sun and the moon is Pa Salieu. It’s trippy fever dream but much like their music rooted in their Yoruba heritage and tradition.

New Audio: Acclaimed Kinshasa-Based Collective KOKOKO! Releases a New Banger

Led by Makara Biano and prolific French producer débruit, the pioneering and acclaimed Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo-based DIY electronic collective KOKOKO! is fueled by growing spirit of protest and unrest among their hometown’s young people. And much like young people across the globe, Kinshasa’s young people have begun to openly question centuries’ old norms and taboos, and they’ve openly begun to denounce a society that they perceive as being paralyzed by fear — namely,. the fear of inclusiveness and much-needed change.

The collective and their local counterparts have done this with a fearless in-your-face, punk rock sort of ethos. This isn’t surprising: the acclaimed Congolese collective’s name literally means KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK! — with the collective viewing themselves as the sound and voice of a bold, new generation defiantly banging on the doors and walls, yelling out “OUR TIME IS NOW!”

The Kinshasa-based collective’s creative processes are centered around the notion that poverty and the desperately urgent need to survive often fuels wild creativity. And unsurprisingly, they operate in a wildly inventive DIY fashion, creating self-designed and self-made instrument made from recycled and reclaimed flotsam and jetsam and recovered junk. They even built a recording studio out of old mattresses, reclaimed wood and an old ping-one table.

The collective exploded into the national and international scenes with their critically applauded, full-length debut 2019’s FONGOLA was a forward-thinking, urgent effort featuring a difficult to pigeonhole, global orientated sound with elements of disco, post-punk, hip-hop, reggae, retro-futuristic funk, Afro-futurism and the region’s traditional folkloric sounds. The end result, was a sound that seemed to come from an alien yet familiar, near-dystopian future like our own, where the ghetto and the club where one and the same.

The Kinshasa-based collective’s latests ginned “Donne Moi,” is the first bit of new material since their full-length debut. Featured on the soundtrack of FIFA 22, “Donne Moi” sees the act expanding upon their forward-thinking, sound: while still pairing their handmade instruments with electronic production, the new single is a percussive, house music leaning club banger centered around chanted and shouted call and response vocals, rousingly anthemic hooks.

“We recorded ‘Donne Moi’ in Brussels just before the pandemic hit, and we are happy it’s finally seeing a release. The song is about giving back. Giving, as well as receiving, shouldn’t be always one way.”

The collective is currently working on new material, which is slated for release next year.

Acclaimed Malian-born, Paris-based kora player Ballaké Sissoko comes from an equally acclaimed and deeply musical family: Sissoko is the song of the late, legendary kora master Djelimady Sissoko, best known for his work with Ensemble Instrumental Du Mali. Drawn to the kora at at a very young age, the younger Sissoko was taught the instrument by his father.

Tragicaally, Djelmady died while his children were very young — and Ballaké stepped up to take on the role of the family breadwinner, eventually taking his father’s place in Ensemble Instrumental Du Mail.

Interestingly, Ballakè Sissoko has had a long-held fascination with genres and sounds outside of the scope the Mandika people — i.e., flamenco guitar, sitar and others — which has inspired and led to a series of critically applauded collaborations with a diverse and eclectic array of musicians across the globe including Vincent SegalToumani Diabaté, legendary bluesman Taj Mahal and Ludovic Einaudi.

Now, as you may recall Nø Førmat Records released Sissoko’s 11th album Djourou earlier this year. The album features solo compositions while continuing upon his long-held reputation for collaborating with a cast of diverse and unexpected artists including Nouvelle Vague’Camille, African legend Salif Keita, young, leading female kora player Sona Jobareth, the aforementioned Vincent Segal and Malian-born, French emcee Oxmo Puccino among others. 

Deriving its name from the Bambara word for string Djourou can trace its origins to when Sissoko approached Nø Førmat label head Laurent Bizot with the proposition of blending solo kora pieces with unexpected collaborations. Interestingly, the label and Sissoko mutually agreed that he taake teh time to confirm enriching and challenging parternships with artists, who were also fans of Sissoko’s work. The album took a painstaking yet fruitful two years to write and record.

Over the past couple of months I’ve written about three of Djourou‘s released singles:

  • Frotter Les Mains:” Deriving its title from the French phrase for “rub hands,” the mediative track is centered around the simple percussive element of Sissoko rubbing his hands back and forth, shimmering plucked kora and Malian-born, French-based emcee Oxmo Puccino’s dexterous and heady bars in French. While being a much-needed bit of peace, thoughtfulness and empathetic connection in a world that’s often batshit insane, the two artists make a vital connection between the ancient and the modern, the West and Africa — with an important reminder that hip hop is the lingua franca of post-modern life. 
  • Album title track “Djourou,” which sees Sissoko collaborating with leading Gambian-born, female kora player Sona Jobarteh. Centered around the duo holding a musical conversation by trading expressive and shimmering, melodic kora lines paired with ethereal interwoven vocals, the track finds its collaborations making connections with across both contemporary African borders and through time. Interestingly, Sissoko sought out Jobarteh with a specific wish to connect with the younger generation of kora players — to rejoin with their common forebears, to weave a connective thread across borders that were unknown and unimagined to the griots of the Malian Empire’s presence over much of West Africa. 
  • Kora,” a collaboration with Nouveau Vague’s Camille centered around the electric and playful interplay between Camille’s coquettish vocals and Sissoko’s expressive yet melodic bursts of kora. The song itself is a love letter to the kora that suggests that the instrument holds an ancient, mystical power.

Djourou‘s latest single “Jeu Sur La Symphonie Fantasique 2” is an album bonus track that features Patrick Messina (clarinet) and frequent collaborator Vincent Segal (cello). This particular collaboration can trace its origins back to when the trio were all playing at the annual Berlioz Festival held in France: The trio were invited to create a piece to mark the 150th anniversary of Hector Berlioz’s death. The end result is a gorgeous re-imagining of “Symphonie Fantasique” that focuses on the composition’s “March To The Scaffold” segment that manages to draw parallels between the martial themes of the original composition and the historic battles of Sissoko’s Mandinka people. Interestingly, while being breathtakingly gorgeous, the track feels like a witty and playful conversation between three masters of their craft.

New Video: Rising Burundian-Tanzanian Artist Young Spit Releases a Summery Banger

Niyomwungere Eric is rising 24 year-old Burundian-Tanzanian singer/rapper, whose family emigrated to the States when he was a child. Best known to the world as Young Spit, the Burundian-Tanzanian artist rose to prominence with the release of his first two singles “Shanna” and “Cinderella,” which appeared on his full-length length debut, last year’s Era 257. Those early singles and his debut found the young artist quickly establishing his unique sound, a mesh of Afro pop, Caribbean music and hip-hop paired with lyrics that draw from his personal experiences.

Clocking in at a smidge under three minutes, Era 257’s latest single “Uwanje” is a summery banger that’s both club and radio friendly — while drawing from an eclectic array of influences: the song manages to mesh trap, contemporary pop and R&B and dancehall as it prominently features twinkling synth arpeggios, skittering tweeter and woofer rocking beats, brief blasts of squiggling horns, a scorching guitar solo and the rising Burundian-Tanzanian artist’s gently Autotuned yet expressive vocals. But underneath the glossy swagger, the song is actually a tender and very sweet love song that gives it a subtle Quiet Storm vibe.

Directed by the rising Burundian-Tanzanian artist, shot by 21G productions and edited by Easy.Cuts, the recently released video for “Uwanje” is part behind-the-scenes-like footage of a photo shoot with the rising artist and some beautiful women split with footage of Young Spit rocking out to the song. The video has a playful charm that’s as infectious as the song itself.

Live footage: Mariaa Siga Performs “Weetay” at Vagh & Weinmann Music

Born Mariama Siga Goudiaby, singer/songwriter Mariaa Siga hails from the Casamance region of Southern Senegal. Back in 2009, Gouidaby won a local talent show and the attention of Senegalese act Joan of Arc. Joan of Arc’s frontperson mentored the young Goudiaby, helping her refine her style and further develop her musical skills. The next year, Siga landed a role in Mon Réve, a film which aired on the national TV network RDV. 

As a musician, Goudiaby grew up with the traditional rhythms of Casamance but curiosity led there to discover and experiment with more Western styles in her work including the blues and jazz. In 2016, the rising Senegalese artist was a winner of the Festival des Vielles Pirogues‘ Tremplin competition. Building upon the growing buzz surrounding her, she released two singles “Ya sama none” and “Asekaw,” the following year.

2018 saw Goudiaby perform in Casamance for the first time with a set at that year’s Kaiyssen Festival. Yoro Ndiyae featured Goudiaby on his Sunu Folk compilation. And she capped off a big year with a French tour in November. Late last year, the Senegalese artist released “Lagne Boote,” a breezy and infectious song that subtly hinted at soca and other Caribbean sounds paired with Afro pop that reminds the listener to never forget their roots. “When you get lost and don’t know where you’re going, go back to your sources,” Goudiaby explained in press notes.

Goudiaby and her backing band recently released a live, acoustic version of Asekaw album single “Weetay,” which translates into “loneliness” was filmed and recorded at Vagh & Weinmann Music in Salernes, France. Filmed in a single take to replicate the conditions of a live concert, the stripped down version of “Weetay” is centered around shimmering acoustic guitar and Siga’s gorgeous vocals, which manage to express desperate loneliness.

New Video: Jujuboy Star Releases a Summery Club Banger

Osaretin Rock Akhib is a 25 year-old Nigerian singer/songwriter and producer, best known as Jujuboy Star. Hailing from the the same city in Edo State as contemporaries Rema and Santi, the Nigerian singer/songwriter and producer can trace the origins of his music career to joining the local church choir when he turned eight. As a teenager, he learned about music production from a neighbor — and by the time he was 16, he was producing his own beats at his grandmother’s house, using Fruity Loops and a USB mic.

From those rather humble beginnings, Jujuboy Star has gone to collaborate with Jidenna, Adekunle Gold, Simi, Gospelonthebeatz. Seyi Shay and a lengthy list of others. Adding to a growing profile, the Edo State, Nigeria-based artist has become the first artist to be signed to the recently formed partnership between Aristokrat Records, the Nigerian entertainment company that discovered and developed international superstar Burna Boy and Universal Records. “Juju is by far one of the most exciting artists I’ve come across over the past decade and represents the next generation of African superstars,” Aristokrat Records founder and CEO Priye Isokari says in press notes. “We are glad to finally be introducing him to the world.”

Quickly following up on “I Dey There,” the rising Nigerian artist’s latest single, the Kel-P-produced “Enjoyment” is a sexy, feel-good club anthem centered around a slick production that meshes elements of Afrobeats, R&B and reggae: the listener will hear skittering and shuffling polyrhythm, squiggling synths, warm blasts of Nile Rodgers-like funk guitar, a strutting bass line paired with Jujuboy’s self-assured yet achingly vulnerable vocals. To me, it’s the sort of song that you’d likely hear in the club while you’re trying to pick up that pretty young thing.

Directed by Earthboi, the recently released video for “Enjoyment” follows the rising Nigerian artist as he wakes up bleary-eyed and staggering from a wild house party with some of the most beautiful Black people I’ve ever set eyes on — including a gold clad woman, who plays the stunning love interest.


Founded in 2014 by Fez, Morocco-born, New York-based master musician Maâlem Hassan Ben Jaafer (sintir, vocals), the New York-based Grammy Award-nominated act Innov Gnawa, which currently features core members Casablanca, Morocco-born, New York-based Amino Belyamani (chorus, qraqeb, piano) and Salé, Morocco-born, New York-based Ahmed Jeriouda (chorus, qraqeb, cajon) and a cast of collaborators, specialize in Gnawa, the ritual trance music of Morocco.

Frequently refereed to as the Moroccan Blues or the Sufi blues, Gnawa is rooted in centuries of history with the musical genre and dance being traced to the mixing of rhythms and polytheistic spiritual beliefs of West Africa — primarily from what is now known as Mali and Mauritania — with Islam and Morocco’s indigenous culture. Lyrically, Gnawa songs are prayers and invocations to saints and spirits for liberation, peace and freedom from worldly suffering and so on. Geaturing unique instruments that are often handmade, including the lute-like sintir, he three-stringed African bass, the guembri, metal castanet-like qarqaba, which are used to pound out clattering and hypnotic rhythms, symbolically meant to represent the clinking and clanking of the slaves’ chains and shackles paired with call and response vocals, Gnawa possesses a hypnotic power that has won over audiences and musicians from all over the globe, including Jimi HendrixPaul Bowles and Randy Weston. And in the band’s native Morocco, the genre is revered as a treasured, indigenous soul music, much like the blues and country are to Americans. 

Produced by Daptone Records‘ founder and self-professed Gnawa enthusiast Gabriel Roth, the acclaimed Brooklyn-based act’s forthcoming album Lila is slated for an April 30, 2021 release through Daptone Records. Deriving its name for a Moroccan term for “night,” Lila is traditional ceremony in which the group dedicates an evening of cleansing and healing through music that was recorded in an epic five hour, one-take session. 

Earlier this year, I wrote about album single “Chorfa.” Clocking in at 13:51, “Chorfa” was centered around an expansive arrangement featuring the double bass-like guembri, the hypnotic polyrhythm of the qarqaba and call and response vocals led by the collective’s Ben Jafaar. The song finds the members of the acclaimed act tapping into a deeply spiritual and universal longing for freedom, clarity, peace and healing that feels — and of course sounds — older than time. “El Ghaba” continues in a similar vein as its immediate predecessor: the double bass-like guembri paired with the hypnotic clicking and clacking of the qarqaba and melodic call and response delivered vocals before ending in an explosive flourish. “Ask a forest dweller about primordial darkness and they will say it is beginning and end, mysterious and all-knowing, dreadful and welcoming, powerful yet invisible,” the band’s Amino Belyamani says of the song.

Lila is slated for an April 30, 2021 release through Daptone Records.